UberPool is getting smarter in New York City — and less convenient

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

While cheaper and increasingly popular with riders, UberPool continues to be stressful service for everyone involved. Riders are lured in by dirt-cheap prices, only to become aggravated by frequent detours to pick up new passengers. Drivers complain that UberPool often means more work without necessarily more pay. And Uber’s engineers have been wrestling with how to make the service that’s core to the company’s mission a more seamless and frictionless experience.

As such, Uber’s city team in New York City have been piloting some minor changes that they say accomplish this. In the congested borough of Manhattan, a turn off one of the main north-south avenues down a numbered street can mean getting trapped in hellacious traffic. As such, riders are being prompted to walk to the closest corner or intersection for more convenient pickups, rather than have drivers deviate from their north-south route.

The same goes for drop-offs, where riders are being let out at a proximate corner rather than the exact address of their destination. Uber calls it “dynamic drop-offs,” but the result is pretty plain. If you want those cheaper fares, you’re going to have to be cool with a lot more walking. Uber began testing this feature last year, and has since rolled it out in wider use.

Uber is also taking into account things like traffic signals and bus lanes, so drivers don’t have to change lanes or zigzag across the street to pickup or drop-off riders. Based on feedback from drivers, Uber determined that the corner past the light on the right-hand side, for example, was a more stress-free pickup location.

Another change is an emphasis on efficiency over speed. That means recalculating drop-off spots during the trip and reducing the number of turns drivers make per mile by 20 percent, said Ronak Trivedi, product manager at Uber. Overall, Uber’s engineers were building a system that factored in human preferences over algorithmic data. That means listening to drivers about their preferences, and then factoring that feedback into UberPool’s core technology. “Previously, we were all about speed,” he told The Verge. “But then we started to acknowledge that computer optimization wasn’t the best experience for riders and drivers.”

To date, these changes have only come in New York City — where 25 percent of all trips are made through UberPool. Trivedi isn’t even sure how scaleable they are to other cities. His team is still trying to refine the data to determine what would work in other markets. Uber recently introduced dynamic pickups and drop-offs (more walking) in San Francisco and Washington, DC. And the city teams are being given flexibility to decide what works for them, and what doesn’t.

Still, many see the ride-hailing giant’s efforts to mimic a public bus route with UberPool as an attempt to kill off mass transit. But Uber argues that its goal is to compliment, not kill, public transportation by solving the so-called “first-mile/last-mile challenge,” a phrase used to describe the difficulty in getting people between transit hubs and their homes. There’s evidence that more people are using services like Uber and Lyft in this manner.

But in New York, as subways become more crowded and more prone to breaking down, and buses get slower, will people abandon transit for carpooling? And how will that effect future funding decisions? It’s a huge, unanswered question, and one that probably isn’t too concerning to the engineers at Uber.

Comments

I don’t see the problem with this. If I need to walk just a short distance away, and the benefit is that my driver doesn’t need to make big turn or detour just to get to me, that represents a win-win scenario for both of us. I save time and he spends less on gas.

In fact, I am already doing this – walking out to the roadside so my Uber doesn’t need to turn into the car park to get to my location.

I really don’t see it as an inconvenience at all.

You are in the minority my friend.

by solving the so-called "first-mile/last-mile challenge"

They’ve obviously decided not to bother addressing the first half-mile challenge. Schmuks can walk.

So is this forced on people, or optional? I can see this working when the weather is good (not raining, freezing, etc) for fit and healthy people, but if the weather is poor, or the rider isn’t very mobile, will there be an option to get that pick up? If not, this seems to be penalising the elderly or less mobile, and creating the exact reasons why these groups can’t/don’t use public transport in the first place.

Knowing Uber they probably dont care about the less mobile or disabled based on their actions

Forced?

If you don’t want to walk, then you pay for a regular UberX.

If you’re cheap and willing to walk a little, then you can take an UberPool.

Uber isn’t a government funded agency, they don’t have to bend over backwards and still give the lowest rates to the elderly or immobile.

The problem with this is that in my experience, there’s a 50/50 chance my driver will just ignore Uber’s navigation and use Waze/Google Maps/intuition to get around, usually resulting in longer trips (but no extra money, because it’s a flat rate.)

I’ve started actively reducing my ratings for drivers who refuse to follow Uber’s navigation guidance. The system only works when drivers follow it.

Pool and Lyft Line are losing propositions for drivers. They are a good service if you want your ratings dinged by cheap passengers. I have never nor would i ever accept the first pool or line ride. Most dont tip and want to always be dropped off first. All while Uber is pocketing all the profits. Now with their "up front pricing", they’re keeping even more of the profits without the drivers seeing an extra nickel.

The only benefit for drivers is accumulating rides in a relatively short amount of time. Given that Uber and Lyft both base their promotions around rides given, and that each passenger on a Line/Pool counts as an individual ride, you can knock out 3 or 4 rides in the time of 1 or 2.

Only if Quest is available in your city. Theres literally no incentive to accept these cancer rides in mine.

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